Guide of all type of transportations in South Korea
South Korea attracts more and more travelers but finding reliable updated information is hard, especially when traveling alone. When I was preparing for my trip, without a car, I had a hard time finding accurate information about transportation there! I gather in this guide all the different type of transportation I personally encountered during those 2 months in South Korea! You can check my complete itinerary here.
I will separate this topic in 2 main categories :
- transportations in town
- transportations between towns
- 1 TRANSPORTATIONS IN TOWN
- 2 TRANSPORTATIONS BETWEEN TOWNS
TRANSPORTATIONS IN TOWN
When you arrive in South Korea, there will be a 90 % of chance you will land in Seoul and spend at least a few days in the city. The international airport is located in Incheon, 60 km from Seoul downtown. To go downtown, you have several options: taxi, bus or metro.
I took the metro AREX (Airport Railroad Express). It connects the airport Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 to Seoul Station in about 1 hour !!
Main stops : Gimpo International Airport, Hongik University (Hongdae)
Price : 4150 wons
This is one of the easiest way to move around the city ! But still have to have your accommodation near by a metro station … Be careful to distances that can be extremely misleading on the map !
Only the following cities has metro : Seoul and its metropolitan area, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon and Gwangju !
Each city has its own price, why? I don’t know.
In Seoul for example, 1250 wons (with T-Money) up to 10 km ride then 100 wons additional every 5 additional km
In Busan : 1300 wons (with T-Money)
Seoul has a very efficient metro system (22 lines in total) and covers the whole area! Unfortunately, for the other cities, there are only 1 up to 7 lines, going through east-west and/or north-south. Hence, some areas are not served.
How to take the metro ?
Taking the metro is quite simple! You need to get a T-money card, precharged, and you bip it at the metro entry gate. You will see there are no barriers but do not think of committing fraud since barriers will automatically block the way! And then, to exit, you will have to bip the card again. The amount will be deducted according to the distance.
Sometimes, it is more fun to take the next transportation mode !
It is my favorite transportation in Korea because I can see the outside view, unlike metro.
Honestly, I have never been familiar with every bus colors, the only thing I know is that red buses were more expensive ! In the big cities, buses can have their own lane.
There is no real city bus map but I highly recommend you to use KakaoMap or NaverMap because everything is in there and well-optimized! You just need to indicate your itinerary, several options will pop up: direct bus, connexion bus, all different stops around you, route time and waiting/arrival time! It is fantastic !! And there are buses everywhere! They cover the whole city wider than the metro.
There are buses anytime in the main cities like Seoul, Busan or Gwangju. At maximum, you will just have to wait 5 minutes. You don’t have to worry that much or plan in advance! BUT … in more remote cities like Andong, Gangneung (not really small but you will get my point) or anytime you want to get to somewhere outside the city … you will have to do some maths! Yes, you read it right!
Bus stops for many cities are digitalized with Korean and English displays (in theory). But I came across some stops on the other hand where it was only paper display! Well… if it was just that, why not! Except that a bus journey in Korea has 40 to 50 to even more stops, and so they choose to indicate the time schedule of the main stops of the itinerary! Unlike in France, each stop has its own estimated timetable, in Korea, the same timetable is used for every stop of the line with the main stops only!
You now understand that your bus stop is not the main one, you need to find the closest main stop and calculate about 10-15 minutes before or after to have an estimated arrival time of the bus.
Timetables of those non-digitalized stops are not listed on KakaoMap. I suggest having a look at bus timetables before any visit. Take a picture and calculate your timing accordingly! There can be 1-hour waiting time long. Be careful during lunchtime, 2 hours of waiting time can also be possible.
I mainly think of visits to National Parks, Hahoe Village and Boseong tea plantations for my trip.
How to take the bus ?
The price for one bus ride depends on the city… why? I don’t really know.
Always have your T-Money card, beeps it on the terminal near the driver! You can also pay in cash (slightly 50 to 100 wons more expensive) by showing/saying the amount you will put in the clear box where get on the bus. The driver will give you back the change.
When you want to get off, notify the driver by pressing the red button (usually on the sides). When you get off, if you beeped a T-money, you will have to beep it again when leaving the bus at the back. You can also see how much money is left on the card. The price with a T-money allows you to make a free transfer with an other bus within 30 minutes by beeping your T-money on the next bus. If you paid by cash, you don’t have to do anything but you will have to pay again if you take another bus.
I didn’t take taxis that much except on Jeju Island. It is cheap.
A free taxi is the one with a red light signal at the front. You can hail a taxi in the street or you can order one on KakaoTaxi.
TRANSPORTATIONS BETWEEN TOWNS
If you are without a car, you will probably have 3 main options: the airplane, the train or the bus.
These are the route I personally experienced :
Seoul (Dong Seoul Bus Terminal) – Sokcho (Intercity Terminal) : 2h10
Sokcho (Intercity Terminal) – Gangneung (Intercity Terminal) : 1h
Gangneung Station – Seowonju (KTX) – Andong (Nuriro) : 3h30
Andong Station – Singyeongju (Mugunghwa) : 1h20
Gyeongju (Intercity Terminal) – Busan (Seobu Terminal) : 1h
Busan (Seobu Terminal) – Suncheon (Intercity Terminal) : 2h30
Suncheon (Intercity Terminal) – Mokpo (Intercity Terminal) : 1h30
Mokpo International Terminal – Jeju International Terminal (Seaworld Express Ferry) : 4h30
Jeju – Gwangju (T’way Air) : 1h
Gwangju (Intercity Terminal) – Jeonju (Intercity Terminal) : 1h40
Jeonju (Express Terminal) – Daejeon (Express Terminal) : 1h20
Daejeon (Express Terminal) – Seoul (Express Terminal metro 3, 7, 9) : 2h
Usually, it is not always beneficial… With commuting to the airport, security controls and waiting. Unless you wish to go to Jeju Island!
There are several types of train in South Korea :
- KTX (Korea Train Express) : the super-fast train that serves all main cities
- SRT (Super Rapid Train) : only departure from Suseo (southeast Seoul) towards Busan or Mokpo
- ITX / Saemaeul : express trains serving more cities than a KTX
- Nuriro : semi-express train that connects even more cities
- Mugunghwa : the oldest and cheapest train that runs slowly and serves all cities on the journey
I had to take the train from Gangneung to Andong because there was no direct bus at that time: Gangneung – Seowonju (KTX) then Seowonju – Andong (Nuriro)
I also did Andong – Singyeongju (west of Gyeongju) in Mugunghwa which cost 8300 wons and was less expensive that the bus!
For my part, I always bought my train tickets at the station directly at the counter because all my credit cards didn’t work on self-service terminals (as usual). One tip I can give you is to write down your itinerary and desired time on your phone (in Korean would be ideal) and show it to the vendor if you don’t want to struggle to try to understand each other.
This way of transportation is common in the country and extremely efficient. I used it the most during my trip. I found it to be cheap compared to the train (not always e.g. Mugunghwa).
The bus terminals
There are usually 2 types of bus terminals (stations): Express terminal (고속) and Intercity terminal (시외). They can be next to each other or sometimes apart. Sometimes, a location can be served by the 2 terminals. What will change is the bus company, timetables and arrival terminal that may or may not be ideal.
To have an idea of itineraries, I used BusTago website. It is not very optimal but it was the most reliable one with some accurate information regarding my journeys.
How to buy a bus ticket ?
We buy the bus ticket at the bus terminal. We could also buy it online but it seems like a Korean credit card is needed to pay (international cards are not authorized).
All bus terminals are equipped with self-service kiosks with an English display option :
- choose your departure city, you arrival city
- choose your travel date
- choose your seat
- pay by credit card or cash
Warning: the kiosk didn’t accept my foreign VISA or Mastercard cards 50% of the time. I suggest you have some cash on you.
In some bus terminals, there is no counter anymore but only those self-service kiosks. Usually, someone is always there to assist.
When to buy the bus ticket ?
No need to buy it in advance. Each destination is scheduled several times per day from every 20-30 minutes to every hour. For long distances (more than 2-3 hours), departures are lower. And for even more long distances (more than 4-5 hours), there are no more than 2 or 3 departures per day. Just be careful of holidays or special events.
Korean people buy their bus tickets 5 to 10 minutes before departure.
Here is what a bus ticket looks like :
In detail, you will find :
1. Departure city
2. Arrival destination
4. Date of departure (year-month-day)
5. Time of departure
6. Seat number
8. QR code to scan si if the bus is equipped
To sum up my bus journey: it was a journey from Daejeon to Seoul on May 3rd at 12:50 pm pricing 10300 wons. My bus departed from platforms 6, 7 or 8 and I sat in seat 3 on the front bus.
How to take the bus ?
- Arrive around 10-15 minutes before departure: this is when you will be allowed to board
- Locate your departure platform
- Check your destination in front of the bus, or if your destination is served: in doubt, you can ask the driver or show him your ticket
- For equipped buses, you need to scan your ticket at the black terminal next to the driver. When scanned, you will see on the screen your seat turning red showing you are there.
If not equipped, the driver will pass to get the tickets (or not)
- Get to your seat
- Fasten your seatbelt
- You are ready to depart!
For long distances, a 10-15 minutes break is scheduled at a rest area.
The bus might have several stops before your final destination, don’t get off at the first stop! Look carefully which city you are!
Common transportation in South Korea is the ferry. This unique experience can get you to Jeju from the south of the country. There are several ports for departure :
- Mokpo : 4-5h
- Busan : 12h
- Wando : 1h30 to 5h
- Goheung : around 3h30
- Yeosu : 5h30
Ferry schedules are usually early in the morning or in the evening/at night. For some ports, there are only departures on specific days in the week.
How much does it cost?
To understand prices, you need to know there are many types of comfort on the ferry. You can have a private cabin with a bed, a bed in a shared cabin or a place in economy class. That makes the price variation from 25 € (economy class) up to more than 300 € (VIP room).
I need to warn you about economy class! I did the Mokpo-Jeju journey in the morning in economy class. And it is not what we, western people, are used to !! An economy class on a ferry in South Korea is a big common wooden flooring room (or carpet for some) and locker to store things which means you are sitting on the floor with other people and/or sleeping on the ground! That’s it, there is nothing else!
Where to buy the ticket ?
I say it now : don’t copy me !
If buying a bus ticket is easy, I don’t recommend doing the same for the ferry! Buy it beforehand online! For foreigners, you can get it on DirectFerries, you should be able to book for any departure at any port (to be verified). Unfortunately, prices are slightly higher because of fees since this is not a direct purchase with the ferry company. The other option is to book on the ferry company website but you need a Korean credit card to do so!
The last solution is to buy it at the counter at the port directly! Tedious option though …
My experience : I only had one day between my arrival at Mokpo and the ferry. There were only 2 departure per day : 1 am or 9 am. I realize 3 days before the trip it wasn't possible to book on DirectFerries, I try to book on the korean ferry company website but my credit cards don't work. After calling them (in korean), I understand that I need to go onsite to buy my ticket. The day I arrive at Mokpo, I go straight to the port ! Obviously I go to the wrong place, I have to go to the International Terminal and not the Terminal (classic one). Except that when I get there, around 4 pm, there was nobody ! Not a single soul ... I call again the customer service explaining I was there at the counter. The person on the phone tells me to go upstairs where the office is. It is clearly an unusual situation both for them and me ! I try to buy my ticket again and again my credit cards don't work with their machine. So he just pre-book my ticket which costed 37250 wons with text message confirmation (korean sim card : the value of taking all included) and to pay the next day before departure. He advises me to arrive 45 minutes to 1 hour prior boarding. Indeed,the next morning, there is a huge queue at the counters to pay ! Finally, I paid by cash. So be careful, the staff is only there during boarding times !
On the ferry
Once on board, you go to your cabin and then you do your life on the ferry! Even if ferries look outdated, they are pretty full of services to keep people entertained. On my ferry, there was a convenient store, a cinema, a cafeteria, a Paris Baguette, a tiny arcade room and even karaoke. With that said, there was no wifi !! And I was pleasantly surprised that the mobile network works on the open ocean from Mokpo to Jeju!
There you go, you have all my tips about transportation in South Korea! I hope this will help you figure out what will work for you.
Good luck with your preparation !!
See you soon !